I’ve noticed lately that I’m working much harder to remember names and frequently forgetting what I walked into a room to retrieve. The topper was recently finding the dog’s shampoo in the refrigerator! So it was with relief that I read an article on MedicalNewsToday.com citing a recent study on the natural process of cognitive decline as we age. Different from the cognitive deficits and memory impairment associated with Alzheimer’s and dementia, researchers are studying the biochemistry that results in a normal cognitive decline.
The research, which is being conducted at the Oregon State University Department of Biomedical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, has found certain subunits in the brain that make and store memory. Certain receptors in the brain, NMDA receptors were discovered many years ago, but the subunits and their function is a newer subject of research. NMDA receptors are part of the learning process and memory, but not always active. The article reports that a strong stimulus of some type is required to turn it on and allow you to store a vivid memory – such as a car accident.
Babies are born with many of these subunits which gradually decrease in number with age, affecting our capacity to retrieve and store memory and cognitive associations. Kathy Magnusson, a neuroscientist researching the topic, “You can still learn new things and make new memories when you are older, but it’s not as easy. Fewer messages get through, fewer connections get made, and your brain has to work harder.”
One of the benefits of the study’s findings, discovered through related genetic therapy with mice, that this normal cognitive decline isn’t necessarily a given and may even be somewhat reversible. “The one thing that does seem fairly clear is that cognitive decline is not inevitable,” Magnusson says. “It’s biological, we’re finding out why it happens, and it appears there are ways we might be able to slow or stop it, perhaps repair the NMDA receptors. If we can determine how to do that without harm, we will.”